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Every kind of meat needs a different kind of care on the grill, and scallops are no exception. This guide will give you everything you need to cook up a plate of perfect BBQ scallops. For a beginner, cooking scallops on the grill can be a challenge, but it doesn’t need to be intimidating. Let’s get started!
What are Scallops?
Scallops are a kind of omnivorous bivalve that use powerful muscles to jump and swim along the ocean floor. These muscles are the part of the animal that are harvested and sold as meat. A living scallop looks much different from the part you cook, with a fan shaped shell, and an array of thin, transparent tentacles. Some scallops even have two hundred eyes, but try not to think about that when you’re grilling.
How to Choose Fresh Scallops?
In the US, scallops are harvested along the east coast. If you’re fortunate enough to live nearby, you should be able to find fresh scallops in a market any time between May and November, which is usually when they’re in season.
If you don’t live near the ocean, or it’s the wrong time of year, you’ll probably have to buy frozen scallops. Individually quick frozen, or IQF scallops are going to be the best choice for freshness.
Scallops are packaged in one of two ways: dry or wet. Wet scallops are soaked in a bath of phosphates intended to add weight and force consumers to pay more for the same amount of meat. Wet scallops are to be avoided when possible. They will usually appear chalk-white or close to it in color, and might weep a milky substance. Try to purchase dry packed scallops that smell fresh and have a pinkish color like raw chicken.
Most scallop farming practices are completely sustainable, and don’t use harmful chemicals. Some caught scallops in the UK and elsewhere use dredging techniques that can damage the seafloor, though. If you’re concerned about ethical seafood production, you can look into the source of your scallops before you make a purchase.
Wherever you buy your scallops, do it on the same day you plan to cook them, and store them in the coldest part of your refrigerator. (In most models, that’s close to the back.)
How to Grill Scallops?
The first thing to do is take the scallops out of their packaging, whatever it may be, and pat them dry with a paper towel. If you want to marinate them, you can, but not for more than one hour. Scallops are already very tender meat, so the acid in a marinade can dry them out if they’re exposed to it for too long. If you do marinate your scallops, pat them dry again before cooking. Too much moisture can prevent them from developing the sear that we’re looking for. Regardless of whether you marinated or not, coat your scallops in some kind of cooking fat. Olive oil or butter works, and you can use animal fat as well.
Season your scallops however you please. The simplest way is just to rub in some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Scallops usually have a sweet, faintly nutty flavor. Pick spices that you think will complement it. If you’re short on ideas, try lemon, garlic, or rosemary. If you’re going to serve your scallops with another kind of grilled seafood, you can reuse that spice mix. Grilled scallops and shrimp, for example, would do well with paprika or cajun seasoning.
You can grill scallops directly on the grate, or you can use a skillet, comal, or another similar cooking surface. Some scallops are so small that they can fall between the grates, so a skillet is your best bet for those. Generally, a heavy, flat metal cooking surface will give you a deeper, more consistent sear, but the grate will give you grill lines. Whichever you use, grease it lightly before cooking.
Grill at high heat for two or three minutes per side. In order to get a good sear while maintaining a soft interior, you’re looking for temperatures around six hundred degrees if you can get them. Flip when the meat is no longer translucent, and you have the desired sear on the cooked side. Overcooked scallops are chewy and dry, so be err on the side of caution. Fresh scallops tend to be free of the parasites that can infect other bivalves, so undercooking them shouldn’t worry you too much.
It’s best to serve immediately after cooking if possible.
How do You Know when Scallops are Done on the Grill?
If you’re not sure whether your scallops are finished cooking, there are a few things you can do. First, make sure the meat is opaque all the way around. When cooking on high heat, you can sear meat without actually cooking it all the way through, and every grill will produce slightly different temperatures. To measure the scallops’ internal temperature, insert a meat thermometer into the side. The internal temperature should register 145 degrees. If it gets hotter than this, you may risk overcooking them.
Unfortunately, some thermometers can have inaccuracy margins of over five percent, which can mean the difference between tender and tough meat. These problems only grow worse as the product ages. If you’re in the market for a new meat thermometer, we recommend buying a ThermoPro Meat Thermometer.
How do You Keep Scallops from Sticking to the Grill?
The cooking fat on the scallops and the cooking surface should help with sticking, but if you’re still having trouble with it, you can use a mixture of flour, cornstarch, and cooking oil to coat them. The ratio of oil to flour to cornstarch should be about 6:3:1 For two pounds of scallops, you’ll probably only need about two tablespoons of oil, one tablespoon of flour, and a teaspoon of cornstarch.
What Should You Serve with Grilled Scallops?
Now you know how to grill sea scallops, but man cannot live on grilled scallops alone. The scallops will give you the protein and a little bit of fat from the cooking oil, but a complete meal should still have some starch or grain and some vegetables. Here are a few side dishes that will complement your scallops perfectly.
Pasta with White Wine Sauce
White wine tends to pair well with shellfish, but that doesn’t mean you have to drink it to get the effect. A white wine based sauce on tender homemade noodles will contrast the softer flavor of the scallops, but a light enough sauce won’t risk overpowering it. This should work especially well if you season your scallops with garlic and lemon.
The detailed recipe: Scallop Pasta with White Wine Sauce.
Salad and Scallops make for a light seafood meal suitable for picnic or outdoor lunch. To make the most of the fresh, summery theme, we recommend a salad with plenty of fruit and maybe a few almonds or other nuts. Pomegranate, pears, almonds, and greens with a light balsamic dressing would work perfectly.
The detailed recipe: Seared Sea Scallops with Pomegranate-Dressed Salad.
If you want to lean all the way into the rich, tender grilled scallops, you could pair them with buttermilk mashed potatoes, or if you like the wordplay, buttermilk scalloped potatoes. The buttermilk will add a subtly sour flavor which will complement the sweetness of the scallops, and the potatoes will add starch to the meal, making for a filling, if heavy, dinner menu.
View the complete recipe: Buttermilk Scalloped Potatoes.
For scallops with a more intense sear and a smoked paprika or chilli powder seasoning, fry up a pan of onions and bell peppers. Add a few squeezes of lime juice before serving. The scallops will take on the traditional role of chicken, but have a more tender texture, and a sweeter flavor, which will combine well with the caramelized onions.
Learn from the full recipe: Scallop Taco (Fajitas).
Now that you know everything you need to, there’s nothing stopping you from getting out there and firing up the grill. We hope this blog has helped you out, and wish you the best of luck in all your culinary adventures. Ciao!